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Natural Awakenings Greater Boston - Rhode Island

Traditional Chinese Veterinary Medicine: Supporting Pets With Ancient Healing Wisdom

Sep 29, 2023 09:30AM ● By Kiki Powers
Traditional Chinese Veterinary Medicine

Barna Tanko/

For years, we have seen a growing appreciation in contemporary culture for Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) and the complementary role it can play within Western medicine. Based upon thousands of years of observation, this natural healing approach can be valuable not just for humans, but also for animal companions.

Traditional Chinese Veterinary Medicine (TCVM) includes the use of food therapy, acupuncture, Chinese herbs and tui-na massage to maintain health and treat disease. Some pets with chronic arthritic pain, inflammatory bowel disease, nerve damage, epilepsy, cancer and other long-term ailments may not respond well to conventional treatments, or the side effects of Western medicine may cause even more problems. That is when TCVM can intercede to provide relief.

There are a few basic principles governing TCVM. Qi is the life force that flows freely when a pet is healthy and may be blocked or weak when a pet becomes ill. Yin-and-yang refers to the interplay between natural dualities—such as light and dark or hot and cold—and the need to maintain a balance between these opposing properties. There are five elements—wood, fire, earth, metal and water—which also need to be in balance for optimal health. During an examination, a TCM vet will determine what is out of balance and develop a customized treatment plan.

Food Therapy

Dr. Ruth Roberts, an integrative veterinarian and pet health coach, applies TCM principles when designing a whole-foods diet to optimize pet well-being and support healthy longevity. “Under TCM principles, foods have warming, cooling or neutral properties when they interact with a pet’s natural energy, and the goal is to find a balance,” she explains. “Many pet ailments may stem from or be related to imbalances within the body, as well as environmental factors, all of which underscore the need for the proper nutritional balance.”

According to Roberts, in a hot climate, a pet might need cooling foods, such as turkey, fish, banana, celery, kelp, spinach, broccoli, cabbage, cucumber and melon. In colder temperatures, warming foods such as mutton, deer, chicken, ginger, squash and pumpkin are advisable. When designing a balancing diet, neutral foods may be needed, including pork, bison, salmon, tuna, carrots, green beans, peas, olive oil and shiitake mushrooms. 


Veterinary acupuncture is becoming increasingly popular to relieve pain or treat ailments, including allergies, seizures, reproductive problems and liver and kidney disease. The procedure involves the insertion of very thin needles into specific points on the body, thereby stimulating nerve endings, which then conduct impulses to the brain and spinal cord. It is best to consult an experienced, licensed acupuncturist or TCVM specialist that specifically treats pets.

In a 2017 study published in the Canadian Veterinary Journal, researchers found, “Acupuncture alone or in combination with analgesics reduced pain and improved quality of life in dogs with neurological and musculoskeletal diseases. Dogs with musculoskeletal disorders had a better improvement in chronic pain and locomotion than those with neurological disorders.” 

Chinese Herbs

TCVM uses a number of herbs, roots, mushrooms, bark and other plant-based ingredients to help pets with immune dysfunction, gastrointestinal issues, skin conditions, liver and kidney disease and other long-term, chronic conditions. When it comes to more serious pet health issues, such as osteosarcoma (bone cancer), Roberts suggests the strategic use of full-spectrum hemp extract (CBD), cannabis oil (THC) and medicinal mushrooms. Dosages will differ for each individual pet. It is best to consult an integrative veterinarian or pet nutritionist. 

“In several documented cases, a combination of homeopathy, TCM, medicinal mushrooms and CBD-THC solutions working together synergistically with a healing diet have helped dogs outlive their bone cancer diagnosis without harmful side effects, stressful procedures or complicated vet visits, all at a dramatically reduced cost,” Roberts says. “As they say, ‘An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure,’ especially where our beloved animal family members are concerned.”

Tui-Na Massage

Also under the TCVM umbrella, tui-na massage uses kneading, pressing and rolling techniques to improve a pet’s health and balance. Among the conditions that respond well to this type of massage are arthritis, muscle tension and soreness, stress and anxiety, joint paint and mobility issues. The technique focuses on stimulating acupuncture points and energy pathways, or meridians, that promote the smooth flow of qi throughout the body. This treatment can be used in conjunction with complementary therapies to enhance results. 

Integrative Medicine

“I strongly believe Traditional Chinese Medicine is good medicine. Western medicine is great medicine. However, the best medicine is an integration of both because each of them has their own strengths and weaknesses,” says Dr. Huisheng Xie, DVM, Ph.D., a clinical professor of integrative medicine at the University of Florida College of Veterinary Medicine, in Gainesville. 

According to Xie, TCVM is weak in diagnosis because it does not have sophisticated diagnostic technology. Western medicine’s weakness is the large amount of side effects associated with conventional drugs. “That’s why the best medicine is to integrate both to avoid the weaknesses and take advantage of the strengths of each,” he says.

Kiki Powers is a health writer, blogger and national speaker specializing in plant-based nutrition and healthy green living. Learn more at